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The Perverse Effects of the Disparity Between Societal Aims and Humanistic Aims

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For most of human history, homosexuality has been considered an unnatural act and, in more recent decades, a mental disorder (D'Emilio & Freedman, 1988; Duberman, Vicinus, & Chauncey, 1989). Despite the progress we have made in our thinking, it remains a taboo subject. Homosexuality and other matters that are improper for society are generally guided by one main principle stated as follows: if one wants to live under the authority of a particular society one must abide by its rules. Thus, if you want to be a member of a particular society you must adhere to its customs, both implicit and explicit. The details of this social contract include thinking a certain way (allowing only certain thoughts to reach one's consciousness and repressing taboo ones). Under these circumstances, it is best for a person with homosexual impulses to repress them.

Society, for the most part, does a fairly good job of conditioning and manipulating the majority to think and feel a certain way but what society cannot accomplish is left to the individual to manage. People who are not so "lucky," homosexuals in this instance, are torn between what society claims to be right and what the individual claims (feels) to be right. Unfortunately, the former frequently trumps the latter and out of this disarray we have a great amount of people who suffer psychological distress. The cause of this distress, however, stems from the established social pattern of thought-- essentially, the conviction that homosexuality is wrong. This, in turn, led many individuals to keep their sexual orientation a secret or alternatively seek out a cure for the "disorder," the likes of which has no cure.

The problem at hand has to do with personal aims in discord with societal aims (Fromm, 1960, p. 105). Put into context, a woman desires another woman yet she has to suppress her impulses because the society at large deems such a relationship unacceptable. Moreover, for fear of being ostracized she, against her own volition, obliges these societal demands not knowing she will only beget the same fate-- isolation. At one end we have isolation from society and at the other we have isolation from one's self. The only viable solution, then, is to transcend the aims of society. Fortunately, in recent years we have seen this unfold (e.g. legalization of same-sex marriage). The primary reason it generally takes society longer to catch up to humanistic (individual) aims is simply because it is more difficult to change the minds of a large group of people. Although, until this feat occurs there will be friction in society (which some think is unavoidable).

To sum up, in the days when homosexuality was heavily regarded as a pathology, much of an individual's reluctance to affirm her homosexuality (or dare to even acknowledge such impulses) could be ascribed to fear of isolation. Bearing this in mind, it is no far stretch to see how many homosexuals felt "different" or separate from society. By now we should be well aware that it is not an inherent disease. If anything is to be said about homosexuality in relation to mental illness it is that the problem did not arise out of an illness within the individual but to an illness external to the individual, namely the social pattern of thought. And because of this process, we can see how thoughts or feelings deemed wrong by society can produce maladjusted people.

Up until now, my endeavor has been to show how the way society thinks can affect the individual. The output of sick people is often times our society's own doing. Where then is a person to turn when her own society rejects her; when the very world in which she lives compels her to deny her most basic impulses; to deny that which makes her human? At times, a neurosis is the most efficient solution to cope with this sort of psychological distress. Sadly enough, it is an awry, avoidable system our fellow man has "had" to endure. Each time an individual goes against the prevailing thoughts of society that individual should not immediately be branded or dismissed. Throughout history we have seen the great progress that can be achieved when individuals are able to transcend societal aims: Martin Luther King Jr. transcended the racial inequality during the African-American Civil Rights Movement; Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi transcended British-ruled India; Joan of Arc transcended a world ruled by men amidst the Hundred Years' War.

As far as I can see, the only way out of the misery we create is to change the way we think, which entails accepting not only our similarities but our differences as well. A common misconception of modern thinking is that equality has come to mean sameness. In other words, "if I am not the same as everybody else, then I am not equal," (The Mike Wallace Interview: Erich Fromm 1958-05-25). I am sure we would all disagree with this statement, however, our thoughts and behaviors indicate otherwise. By this standard the homosexual is shunned simply because her sexual orientation differs. When these sort of aims are allowed to take root in society there are bound to be people who suffer. As I have aforementioned, society can engulf an individual whose aims do not agree with society. Therefore, insofar as we believe that each human life has equal value, we cannot allow the social pattern of thought to stay frozen, so we must strive to be better, even if this means abandoning established societal aims.

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